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Rich fertile soil, rolling green hills, areas of woodland and gorgeous fields of sunflowers: Moldova is a land of considerable natural beauty. Vineyards line much of the landscape, and Moldovan wine is some of the finest according to local people, particularly considering its low price. But the sad fact remains that Moldova is a nation struggling to get to its feet. Throughout the centuries, Moldovians have been pushed to and fro and passed through countless pairs of hands to end up in the 21st century trying desperately to come into its own. In 2001, Moldova elected a Communist to be its leader, becoming the first ex-Soviet colony to do so. Last year, large public demonstrations were held in opposition to the government. Widespread poverty add to the discontentment and Moldovians are considered some of the least happy citizens in the world. This volatile situation makes Moldova less than ideal for your next family holiday. Some of the Moldavian hotels organize excursions to Moldavian monasteries and medieval fortresses. The guides will speak Romanian, Russian or English. In case of excursions to Moldavian wineries they will arrange for you a professional wine tasting.
During the Neolithic stone age era Moldova's territory was the center of the vast Cucuteni-Trypillian culture that stretched east beyond the Dniester River in Ukraine, and west up to and beyond the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. After the decline of the Trypillian culture, the Dacian tribes took over. Between the 1st and 7th centuries CE, the south was intermittently under the Roman, then Byzantine Empires. Due to its strategic location on a route between Asia and Europe, the territory of modern Moldova was invaded many times in late antiquity and early Middle Ages, including by Goths, Huns, Avars, Magyars, Pechenegs, Cumans, and the Mongols. Tatar invasions continued after the establishment of the Principality of Moldavia in 1359, bounded by the Carpathian mountains in the west, Dniester river in the east, and Danube and Black Sea in the south. In 1538, the principality became a tributary to the Ottoman Empire, but it retained internal and partial external autonomy.
In 1812, according to the Treaty of Bucharest between the Ottoman Empire (of which Moldavia was a vassal) and the Russian Empire, the former ceded the eastern half of the territory of the Principality of Moldavia, along Khotyn and old Bessarabia (modern Budjak), despite numerous protests by Moldavians. Soon after that the Russians started a process of Russification. They called the region Bessarabia. The western part of Moldavia (which is not a part of present-day Moldova) remained an autonomous principality, and in 1859, united with Wallachia to form the Kingdom of Romania
Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Bessarabia proclaimed independence from Russia in February of 1918. Moldova decided to unite with the Kingdom of Romania, The newly Communist Russia, however, did not recognize the Romanian rule over Bessarabia. In August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret additional protocol were signed, by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which led to the occupation of Moldava by the Soviet Union, and the establishing of the Moldavian SSR, This event led to a major political shift in Romania, which denounced its alliance with France and Britain, and drew the country closer to Nazi. By participating in the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, Romania seized the lost territories of Bessarabia, and northern Bukovina. The Soviet Army re-captured the region again in February-August 1944, and re-established the Moldavian SSR. During the Stalinist period (1940–1941, 1944–1953), deportations occurred regularly.
After the failure of the 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, on August 27, 1991, Moldova declared its independence. On December 21 of the same year Moldova, along with most of the former Soviet republics, signed the constitutive act that formed the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In 1994, Moldova became a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program and also a member of the Council of Europe on June 29, 1995. In the region east of the Dniester river, Transdnistria, an independent "Transdnestrian Moldovan Republic" (TMR) was proclaimed on August 16, 1990, with its capital in Tiraspol. The motives behind this move were fear of the rise of nationalism in Moldova and the country's expected reunification with Romania upon secession from the USSR. In the winter of 1991-1992 clashes occurred between Transdnistrian forces, supported by elements of the 14th Army, and the Moldovan police. Between March 2 and July 26, 1992, the conflict escalated into a military engagement. Plans for a union with Romania were abandoned, and the new Constitution gave autonomy to the breakaway Transdnistria and Gagauzia.
Moldova shares international borders with Romania and Ukraine, while the self-declared state of Transdnistria stradles the border of Ukraine as well. oldova lies between latitudes 45° and 49° N, and mostly between meridians 26° and 30° E (a small area lies east of 30°). The total land area is 33,851 km2. The largest part of the nation lies between two rivers, the Dniester and the Prut. The western border of Moldova is formed by the Prut river, which joins the Danube before flowing into the Black Sea. Moldova has access to the Danube for only about 480 metres, and Giurgiuleşti is the only Moldovan port on the Danube. In the east, the Dniester is the main river, flowing through the country from north to south, receiving the waters of Răut, Bâc, Ichel, Botna. Ialpug flows into one of the Danube limans, while Cogâlnic into the Black Sea chain of limans. The country is landlocked, even though it is very close to the Black Sea. While most of the country is hilly, elevations never exceed 430 metres - the highest point being the Bălăneşti Hill. In the south, the country has a small flatland, the Bugeac Plain. The territory of Moldova east of the river Dniester is split between parts of the Podolian Plateau, and parts of the Eurasian Steppe.
Moldova consists of 32 administrative rayons. The country can however be divided into two geographically distinct regions.
Two special regions are worth noting.
Cricova is a pearl of Moldavian wine, with a National Collection of wines and tasting halls. The famous galleries of Cricova have a length of 60 kilometres and here are stored and ripen the most excellent Moldavian wines. The underground galleries from natural lime provide a constant temperature – 12-14 °C and humidity of 97-98% - optimal conditions for wine aging of mark of high quality. Wines from Cricova are great, elegant and very tasty. Today Cricova is an underground town. You may convince yourself crossing the streets and avenues with wine names – Cabernet, Pinot, Feteasca and Aligote. In the underground silence from Cricova over 30 million liters of wine accumulate priceless quality and originality. Currently Cricova winery, associates with a large number of red and white table wines of high quality, with 15 brands of champagne and sparkling wines. The cellar Cricova holds more than one million bottles of various wines. The oldest are dated with 1902. All wine types can be enjoyed in tasting halls which represents real architectural works. The winemakers from Cricova conquered over 60 gold and silver medals in prestigious international exhibitions and competitions. From 1966 the winery is member of Club of Trade Leaders from Europe, which has appreciated it at its true value. It is recognition of the production with Cricova mark.
Visit the world's largest wine cellar and Europe's largest wine collection at Milestii Mici winery. Located 20 kilometres south of Chisinau this sight has an underground wine city made of limestone stretching for 250 kilometres. Although only 120 kilometres are currently in use. It is possible to travel in these tunnels by car or bike! And the best part is the tour ends with a wonderful tasting. This is a great day trip from the capital.
Located near the villages of Trebujeni and Buteceni, about 50 kilometres northeast of Chisinau, is the amazing ruins of Orheiul Vechi. Two medieval towns occupied the site for several hundred years. There is an ancient mosque, two mausoleums, a caravan seraglio and three bath houses to explore. Nearby there is an orthodox cave monastery, dating back to the 12th century, that is still in use. If your lucky the English speaking monk might be able to give you a tour.
Go for a hike in the beautiful Nistru River Valley. The river slowly wanders across this hilly area with dense woods giving a wonderful outdoors feel. Look for wildlife and enjoy the quiet countryside. Some parts of river form the border with Ukraine, therefore making it difficult to go back and forth from the banks.
Easter Orthodox Christmas is celebrated approximately two weeks after Christmas in the US, around January 8 and 9. It’s a time for family, with many Moldovans returning home for the occasion. Churches glow with candles, buildings are festively decorated and traditional foods are served.
As with Christmas, Easter takes place later than in the US according to the church calendar, usually in late March or early April. It’s the most important religious festival of the year and continues over Holy Week with street processions full of icons and religious images, church services with candlelight masses and family get-togethers.
May 1 is Labor Day, celebrated in Moldova as the International Day of Solidarity between Working People. It’s a national holiday with many city residents retreating to the glorious countryside.
Held on May 9, Victory Day is a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in the long battle for Moldova’s independence.
May 14 and 15 every year, museums in Chisinau are transformed into theaters for performances of traditional music, song, dance, and even wine-tasting sessions, with special exhibitions taking place as add-ons. The event occurs in tandem with International Museum Day and is one of the city’s most popular events.
This event is a much-loved traditional musical contest between Moldovan folk bands and neighboring countries held every year in May. Traditional instruments, folk-singing contests and parades of costumes are performed by people of all ages, concluding with everyone joining in the hora dance.
One of the most important events of the year, Independence Day is a national holiday taking place on August 26. Military parades, visits to cemeteries and joyful street celebrations remember the fight for freedom from the Soviets.
Moldova’s national wine festival kicks off the first week of October all over Moldova. Set just after the grape harvest ends, the winery regions pull out all the stops to honor the country’s countless centuries of winemaking. Expect parties, street celebrations and endless tastings.
This popular religious event celebrates the Eastern Orthodox anniversary of the Intercession of the Virgin Mary and takes place on October 14 in the capital. The heart of the festival is the main street, Stefan cel Mare, home to processions to the cathedral and many other events.
Moldova joins the rest of the world in celebrating the New Year with parties and gatherings on the evening of December 31. The skies are lit up with fireworks and visits to friends as the clock strikes midnight.
Moldova has a continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. Summertime is from June to September with temperatures averaging around 27 °C, while winters (December to February) are between zero and -8 °C on average. Absolute highs and lows are aroun 37 °C and -30 °C respectively. Precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year with some more rain in summer, when sometimes heavy showers and thunderstorms occur. May and September are very good months for a visit.
Air Moldova is the national airline of the country and is based at Chişinău International Airport (KIV) near the capital. Destinations include Athens, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Istanbul, London, Madrid, Paris, Milan, Rome and Vienna. Air Baltic flies to and from Riga and Vilnius. Other air companies that serve Chişinău are Tyrolean air, Turkish Airlines, Tarom and Transaero. Carpat Air has started flight to Timisoara in Romania.
There are currently no trains to and from Odessa in Ukraine (due to political troubles with Transdniestria). International services go to and from Bucharest in Romania, Sofia in Bulgaria, Minsk in Belarus and Moscow in Russia, among several other connections. Check the Moldovan Railways website for schedules and prices.
You can cross into Moldova by car when you have the right documentation and insurance. Crossings via Transdnistria are not possible but other borders with Ukraine and Romania are open. Those with Romania tend to be much easier though.
Buses travel between Chisinau and a number of other cities, mostly in Romania and Ukraine, few go further away.
There are no boats to and from Moldova.
There are no internal flights because there is only 1 airport.
Trains are generally slow. See the Moldova Railways website for destinations.
Most of the cities are linked by bus but this service is extremely basic. Also the buses and very old and take a long time.
No boat services exist in the country.
As of January 1st, 2008, holders of passports from the following countries do not require visas to enter Moldova as a tourist for stays of up to 30 days:
Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uzbekistan.
Most other nationalities should contact the nearest Moldovan embassy or consulate. In October, during the Moldovan Wine Festival, there is a visa free regime for visitors to the festival. Note that you must still apply and be accepted for a visa in advance, but there is no fee for processing the visa. Also note that still it's not possible to get a visa upon arrival when entering by train!For more information check the Moldovan Tourist website.
Check the latest situation about travelling to Transdnistria, the self-declared autonomous region in the west of the country. Different visa rules might apply here.
See also: Money Matters
Moldovan Leu (MDL), plural Lei (from Romanian for 'Lion'), are divided into 100 bani.
Although the capital is relatively expensive in terms of food and accommodation, costs in the rest of the country are minimal. The Transdniestria region uses the Transdniestrian Rouble.
While none of the Universities in Moldova are accredited internationally, there are Universities in Chisinau, Balti and Cahul.
The two main languages in Moldova are Moldovan and Russian. Moldovan is at best a dialect of Romanian. Although some slang has developed very few Moldovans take pride in their tongue. Most people speak Russian also but many of the Moldovans refuse to speak Russian because of nationalistic pride. Many of the younger people are learning English now. Menus in the capital often include Moldovan, Russian and English.
The traditional Moldavian cuisine is famous for its variety and refinement, because it was formed under the influence of many nations and cultures (Ukrainians, Russian, Greeks, Jews, Germans, etc). Because Moldova is considered the country of grapes, fruits and vegetables, also mutton and poultry, the most favorite dishes for Moldavians are a brinza (white cheese), mamaliga (corn boiled bread), dishes from vegetables, fruits, meat and, of course, wine which occupies a special place in Moldavian cuisine.
Brinza is produced in Moldova since the seventeenth century, since then it’s used as an ingredient in cooking and as a snack as well.
Mamaliga is a famous traditional dish too. It’s prepared from corn flour and is usually served with brinza, milk, borsch, fish and bacon. Corn appeared 200 years ago in Moldova, was used to cook food for poor people, over time have been discovered its miraculous qualities and begun to be used in cooking soups, gaskets and many other dishes.
Moldavian cuisine is an abundance of vegetables and fruits available in large quantities in Moldova thanks to the favorable environment. Pumpkin, eggplant, pepper, beans, lentils, radish and onion are often used in cooking. In Moldova vegetables are used as independent dishes and as garnishes as well. Vegetables are prepared in different ways: fried, pickled, boiled, marinated, grilled etc. The most popular dishes from vegetables are: vegetables stew, vegetables borsch, salads, pickles, grilled vegetables etc. For a more refined taste, in cooking are used different herbs and spices, such as pepper, thyme, tarragon, dill, parsley etc. Leek and celery are often used as independent dishes. From garlic, in Moldova, are prepared two famous sauces - mujdei and skordoly. Also garlic is used to cook a lot of meat and vegetable dishes.
Also Moldavian cuisine is famous for its meat dishes. From beef are prepared sausages, from pork – cirnatei and costita, from poultry - zeama, from mutton - ciorba. The most popular traditional meat dishes are the chicken soup with vegetables (zeama), forcemeat rolls in cabbage leaves (sarmale), jellied meat (racituri), pies and other meat, grilled dishes.
Moldova has a long local wines tradition. Especially the reds are popular throughout the country. Most Moldovan villagers grow their own grapes and press their own wine, and many standard rural households will press thousands of litres per year.
The nightlife of Chisinau is also quite spectacular compared to what could be expected. It is the host of many clubs and bars that are equal in every aspect to many other places throughout Eastern Europe.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Moldova. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Moldova. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis, typhoid as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Moldovia is a relatively safe country and travellers should only use the normal precautions they would do in other countries. As in most countries, crimes are highest in cities, but avoiding dark and isolated streets at night is enough to avoid the worst of this. Again, in general travellers won't face too much troubles in Moldova. The people are friendly and open towards travellers and curious about you as you are about them.
The break-away region of Transnistria has proclaimed (and largely achieved) independence but lacks diplomatic recognition. Consequently, consular support in case of emergency will usually be lacking. Corrupt police and border guards may try to extort bribe money but 'normal' crime rates are low. In fact, locals are generally very friendly and will go to great lengths to provide hospitality to foreigners. You can expect a lengthy, and inevitability boozy, meal to be offered to you just in your honour.
Conservative dress must be worn at religious sites. Shorts are forbidden and women must cover their heads inside the monasteries and churches.
While bribery and police corruption are still problems in Moldova, the situation is improving. It is still advised that tourists have the number of their embassy and the contact information of where they are staying. Foreigners are also required to have their passports on them at all times.
Alcohol consumption can also be a problem. Running into drunks especially at night is common. Most are friendly; they often come off as aggressive and will invade your personal space. This can be scary the first couple of times. Politely walking away normally works. People coming from a country where less alcohol is consumed can find themselves becoming the drunks.
See also: International Telephone Calls
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